Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.I was presented with an interesting conundrum this week while watching the World Cup - should I root for the African team or the American team when the two teams played each other? It was a question of identity - as an African-American where does my first loyalty lie: Africa or America? If there is a division of interests then with which group of people do I cast my lot? When it comes down to brass tax who am I and why am I here?
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh - though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
It reminds me of the 1992 Vice Presidential debate where James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate, opened the debate with the humorous quip, "Who am I? Why am I here?" It was humorous because he was not a politician, relatively unknown, and yet he was in the political spotlight. The question, however, is actually quite profound, and we need to ask ourselves, "Who are we? Why are we here?" This question drives philosophers to think and minstrels to sing - each inquiring about that one thing: "Who are we and why are we here?" Africans throughout the diaspora who are separated from the land of our ancestors have struggled to sing the Lord's songs in a strange land, and we struggle for an identity, for collective self-esteem. We need to answer the question, "Who are we and why are we here." To answer that question we must look to God. David inquired of God, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" Who are we and why are we here?
The apostle Paul may have been the most conflicted Christian to walk the face of the planet in regards to competing interests. He was a Christian. He was a Jew. He was a Roman citizen. He was certainly conflicted when viewed by outsiders, but Paul made it clear who he was and why he was here. Although he was among the most pious of Jews - circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee thoroughly trained by Gamaliel; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless - he considered it all a heaping pile of fecal material compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, compared to the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. It isn't that Paul renounced his Roman citizenship - he had no problem invoking his citizenship to get a hearing before Caesar. It isn't that he renounced his Jewish heritage - he spends a few chapters detailing to the Gentiles how God has not forsaken the Jews. However, when the rubber hits the road, his loyalty and indeed his very identity is found in Jesus Christ. Paul made that point very clear: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ."
Who am I?
On the question of identity I prioritize according to the permanence of the trait. I am a citizen of the United States of America - born and raised - but I could become a citizen of another country. There is nothing that compels me to be an American other than the fact that I was born here, love of country notwithstanding. I am a Black man, and no matter what else I do I will die a Black man. As the cliche says, "All you got to do is stay Black and die" - a saying that emphasizes the permanence of our ethnicity. Even Michael Jackson, after all of his surgeries, even though many Blacks don't want to claim him, is still a Black man, Vitiligo and all. My ethnicity is irrevocable, so it takes priority over my nationality which is indeed mutable. However, my Christianity trumps all of that - if there is a conflict between the cause of Christ and interests of the United States of America then I will side with Jesus Christ every time. If there is a conflict between the cause of Christ and the interests of Black folk then I will side with Jesus Christ every time. If there is a conflict between the cause of Christ and my very family then I will side with Jesus Christ every time, for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his very soul?
Who am I?
I appreciate my American citizenship and I honor my African heritage, but I am a child of the King. I am a disciple of the Christ. I am a wild olive shoot that has been grafted in among the others and now shares in the nourishing sap from the olive root, the true vine, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.
Who are you?